The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

COMMUNITY PROFILE

Funding for nonprofits serving women, girls

The New Mexico Women’s Foundation has awarded $25,000 in spring funding cycle grants to:

  • Bound for Success in Bernalillo, a not-for-profit organization operating Nearly New, which provides clothing free of charge to women in transition and to victims of domestic violence, and the 313 Thrift Store;
  • Planned Parenthood of New Mexico, providing adolescent pregnancy-prevention education in Albuquerque’s South Valley public schools;
  • Service, Empowerment, Transformation (SET), for Health New Mexico in Albuquerque, providing health-education self-care workshops to incarcerated New Mexico women, including books and other publications;
  • Working Classroom in Albuquerque for Theatre of the Oppressed, providing workshops and performances by and for the immigrant community (workshop participants and performers are domestic violence survivors);

and other projects throughout the state.

State nonprofit organizations that serve the needs of women and girls are eligible to apply for grants ranging from $500 to $5,000. Priority is given to organizations and programs that are developed by and for New Mexico’s female population and focus on economic independence for women and girls in the areas of education, arts and culture, human rights, health, and economic development, . Projects must meet the criteria outlined in the NMWF grant guidelines, available on-line at www.nmwf.org or by calling 983-6155 in Santa Fe.

The New Mexico Women’s Foundation awarded $66,000 to twenty-one organizations statewide in 2002.

 

An intrepid lady

Ouida A. Anderson

I wish that I had known her. Regrettably, however, I had never even heard the name of Edna McKinnon when Roy Skeens came to me and suggested an article about her. Actually, he did not know her name either. He simply said that the village had at one time boasted a single lady much like Edith Warner. You know the one he meant. The lady who ran the restaurant at Otowi Bridge; the one where the scientists from Los Alamos used to stop by for lunch or a piece of pie before heading on into town or going back up the hill to the labs. I admit I looked at him rather blankly. Yes, of course I was familiar with Ms. Warner’s history. But what did he mean that Placitas had once housed such an enterprising, single, Anglo lady? And restaurant? Where? I had certainly never seen evidence of one. Ah, but then I am a newcomer, and many things appear different today than they did just twenty years ago.

A few questions in the ears of longtime residents and the story of an intriguing lady began to edge its way into my consciousness. There had indeed been such a restaurant, and scientists from Sandia Laboratories had patronized it—in fact had even suggested its possibility. Ooh. This was sounding fascinating. Did the building still exist? Where was it? Oh, yes. It was not a restaurant building per se but the home of Edna McKinnon and was (and is still) located in the village proper, just behind the old mission church. Okay! Now to discover the identity of the lady herself.

She was born Edna Spraggins in Texas in the latter half of the 1890s,  one of nine siblings. When she was still a child, the family moved by covered wagon across the Red River to the Indian Territory that is now Oklahoma. Lonnie Brown, who is Edna’s nephew, relates that Edna’s parents were farmers and that they settled around Davidson, Oklahoma. Little is known about her years spent growing into adulthood in the Indian Territory except that she later married a man by the name of McKinnon and trained to become a professional nurse—which was no small effort for a young woman in those years.

Elaine Slusher (a mutual friend) says that Edna told her that when World War I broke out, she wanted to join up and help the troops. However, in that day, a lady who was married could not join the Army. Edna divorced her husband (this was apparently an easy decision on her part), joined the army, and was shipped off to France. There she reputedly ran an orphanage for a period of time. Elaine states that Edna became very fond of a particular little boy and would liked to have been able to adopt him, but a rule opposite to the one permitting her to join the army prohibited her from adopting: a divorced single woman could not adopt.

I am told that when she returned home after the war, for a brief period she was the highest paid professional woman in Oklahoma. Remembering that in Depression years most women did not work outside of the home, that is not a difficult concept to grasp. McKinnon was a public-health nurse at the time and was working in Oklahoma City. A fairly heady venue for a former farm girl, some might think, but not for a war veteran who had traveled to distant shores in the service of her country.

Next we find McKinnon in 1940 in the county of Bernalillo, New Mexico, just a few miles down the hill and to the southwest of the village of Placitas. In fact, the city of Albuquerque comprises the vast majority of that county, and it was in Albuquerque where McKinnon made her home in those years. Here too she was a public-health nurse, and it was in that capacity that she was introduced to many of the people that would later stand her in good stead as a restaurant entrepreneur.

Again war loomed its ugly head, and McKinnon opted to serve yet another stint. This time she was sent to South America, where she was able to assist with research on tropical diseases. Immediately before returning to the United States, she was instrumental in the establishment of nursing schools in Ecuador. A special lady, this Edna McKinnon. A force to be reckoned with—independent, resourceful, and intelligent.

Not stopping to draw a breath, she decided upon her return to New Mexico that she would open a small convalescence facility for patients recovering from illness or surgery. Through an ad in the newspaper she purchased an old two-room adobe home in Placitas. It was the old Mora family residence north of the Catholic mission and sat back off the lane behind an adobe wall. Originally it had been a one-room dwelling, but a second room had been added later on the north side of the preexisting structure. In the addition a beautiful floor of bricks hand made by prisoners in a now defunct prison glows with an inner life, each brick sporting an individual pattern of swirls. Her sister Gladys came out to help her remodel the home into a larger, more versatile accommodation. A name was chosen: La Casa de Las Huertas Huéspedes. A beautiful choice and appropriate for both the site and for McKinnon’s skills as a dedicated and enthusiastic gardener. It means house of the garden-orchards. Wonderful trees grace the yards, and in McKinnon’s days flowers were abundant in the well-tended beds watered by the Mora Ditch arm of the village acequia. The humble little two-room dwelling was transformed into a much larger and more comfortable home and became one of the most admired homes in the village. A guest room was added across from the two front-facing rooms. That addition, along with a very large bathroom and a master bedroom at the north end, enclosed what had once been an outside wall into a hallway. Part of that original adobe outside wall now forms a charming sculptural vision in the hallway as it bows in a graceful curve by the door frame. Wooden cross beams stretch across the narrow hallway, and delightful stenciling in a lovely pattern of colors that it is assumed McKinnon herself was responsible for still graces them. Lovingly painted blue stenciling is also found on the beams in the original room of the house. The current owners, Pearl and Robert Healy, took pains to see to it that the stenciling was repainted in the same shade of blue when they modernized the house. Add a living room with a new front door, a kitchen with an efficient propane-burning stove, outside access doors in every room, a laundry room, pantry, and a utility shower stall and toilet, and you have a house designed to welcome and charm. It succeeded in every way, thanks to the lady of the house.

McKinnon had a lot of friends from past associations with the people at Sandia Army Base (which later expanded into Sandia National Laboratories and Kirtland Air Force Base). These friends knew her to be a cook par excellence. When they discovered what she was doing with her home in Placitas, they asked her to please prepare special meals for themselves and their guests on occasion. She agreed, and a new venture was off and running. The convalescent facility never got started. McKinnon was too busy cooking.

The business flourished in the 1950s and into the ‘60s. Since there was no electricity in the village at the time, no telephone service was available, and since McKinnon worked on a reservation-only basis, the lack of a telephone created some logistical conundrums. Hiring a lady in Albuquerque to take the reservations, she would drive down to Bernalillo to make a phone call to that lady to see how many people she needed to cook for on a given day and if a particular entrée was required. Here it must be noted that this was no ordinary meat-loaf-and-mashed-potato establishment. McKinnon was known for her lobster thermidor, chateaubriand, and twice-baked potatoes, which were a new and very popular introduction in those days.

Naturally it was impossible for her to accomplish all of this on her own even though she did a lot of the labor herself. One story is told of her complaining of a backache and insisting that she could not determine the cause of it. She had been unloading bags of cement from a pickup truck! Possibly for the pond that she later filled with large goldfish? Such an energetic lady.

However, her sister Gladys came frequently from Oklahoma to visit and lend a hand. People of the village were hired to work on and in the house, chop vegetables, tend the gardens, and serve at dinner. The little shower stall in the laundry room was used by the staff to wash up before the guests arrived. Wood-burning fireplaces were in every room, adding cheer and much-appreciated warmth. Elaine Slusher tells of a time when she went to help McKinnon with the dinner. She had a new baby at the time and took him in a basket with her to the house. Placing him in one of the guest rooms, she occupied herself with the tasks at hand until something told her to check on the baby. She discovered that the fire had popped a small live ember onto his wool blanket. An incident not easily forgotten by a young mother!

Gracious and welcoming, by dint of her own labors and the able assistance of others, Edna McKinnon turned a village home into a sought-after dining experience. Guests came from all over the Albuquerque area, including Sandia Laboratories and Lovelace Medical Center, which at that time was working with the astronauts in the brand-new manned space program. It is almost a certainty that General Douglas MacArthur dined there in the company of friends. We are told that he was a delightful dinner guest. It is even hinted that Dwight D. Eisenhower may also have been a guest—also in the company of a good friend from Sandia Base. Tales of guests being accompanied by Secret Service agents entice one to imagine that these great men and others of their ilk did in fact enjoy the hospitality of a small home in Placitas and spending an evening in convivial company while partaking of a superb meal. Alas, the old guest book now is empty of its pages proud with signatures, and other records are lost. But, oh what fun to contemplate!

Folks who lived here at the time report that they used to watch the lines of cars going to McKinnon’s. They also report that if she was driving they got out of her way! Having such a strong personality, she was at times a challenge to know. It seems that most people liked her, but then some found that a bit difficult to do. As she grew older, McKinnon evidently became more and more suspicious in her dealings with people, especially in the areas of finances and property. She told Slusher that like her grandpa she was hard of hearing, but that also like him, she could hear every word when the subject was money. But she loved people, she loved her gardens, and she loved her dogs. So much did she love her white Samoyeds, she had three adobe dog houses built for them. The local Hispanic people came to refer to her as la vieja de los perros, or the old lady of the dogs. As for people, word has it that if strangers showed up at her door she would welcome them in for a glass of lemonade and conversation.

Another opportunity for McKinnon arose from conversations with her guests. Many of them voiced interest in the Placitas area. Lonnie Brown, her nephew, often brought his son up to visit, and she told Brown about her feeling that people in considerable number were thinking of locating in the rural beauty away from the bustle of Albuquerque. Brown was in real estate. Paying heed to his aunt’s observations and his own business acumen, he approached a CPA, and the three of them formed a partnership. They purchased approximately one thousand acres of state land in the locale that is now known as Ranchos de Placitas. One is told all sorts of interesting rumors about the price per acre that was paid for the land. Any thing from fifty cents to $1 per acre all the way up to $200 per acre. In actuality it was purchased for the kingly sum of $24 per acre! Not bad! It’s wonderful what getting in on the ground floor of a building boom will do for one’s financial outlook!

The passing of time and the aging of the body and mind must eventually catch up with each of us, and so it did with Edna McKinnon. She became less capable of dealing with her interests. Her younger sister, Fern, from Oklahoma started seeing to her affairs. McKinnon had a small two-room home built in the Rainbow Valley area across from Ranchos de Placitas. The home in the village was sold. Then tragedy struck her with great force. Two thugs attacked her brutally in her home. Seemingly they thought that she had money secreted there. The members of the Garden Club and other friends rallied around to support her, taking her for medical appointments and the like, but the incident had terribly demoralized her. Eventually Fern came to take her back to Oklahoma to be near the rest of the family.. There, several years later, McKinnon passed away in a nursing home.

And what of the former famous restaurant? It is now the home of Pearl and Robert Healy. They spotted it one day in the 1980s as they were driving through the village looking for a place they could call home. They fell in love at first sight. Restoring the home and bringing it “up to date” has been a labor of love for them. The history, the people, the community have become a part of their very fiber. In modernizing the house, they added a gracious dining room and replaced old kitchen cabinets with gorgeous new ones. Pearl Healy says that she made a point to copy the design of Edna’s cabinets when she had the new ones built. From the huge old bathroom they created two smaller bathrooms and a closet. The original interior surface of the walls was tierra blanca, white earth, acquired in a location north of Placitas. Healy says it smelled earthy and damp, so they had the whole interior plastered. They were not able to save the pond, but they are avid gardeners, and the gardens are a testimony to their skills and dedication. The house today is an elegant Southwestern dream and has been featured in the magazine Su Casa. First and foremost, however, it is hospitable and welcoming. It invites one to enter and share in its present as well as its past. Healy says she frequently talks to Edna McKinnon’s spirit. “Edna, do you like this?” she asks. “Do you approve?” I feel the answer must be a resounding and emphatic Yes.

Ouida A. Anderson is a Placitas resident and member of the Sandoval County Historical Society. This article was originally published in El Cronicón, the official publication of the Sandoval County Historical Society. It has been edited for publication in the Signpost.

 

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